One popular question we receive either by phone or e-mail at least twice a day is “how much is a website?” Usually the person asking the question is in a hurry and just wants a specific number. Sometimes the question will arrive by phone and e-mail multiple times in one day.
And at face value “how much is a website?” seems like a valid enough question, especially to a small business owner or anyone unfamiliar with web design, Search Engine Optimization, internet marketing, eCommerce, and what goes into building a professional online presence.
But it’s also attempting to put a finite, one-time dollar amount on something that must, by its nature, be an ongoing marketing process, a brand extension, a way to promote and build a business if it’s going to be successful for a business and produce results you can see.
So, in some ways, when people ask “how much is a website?” we could ask “how much do you want your business to grow, for how long, and what image do you want to project to potential consumers?”
To someone who may not be a WordPress web developer or programmer, SEO, eCommerce, internet marketing… they can all be pretty intimidating.
Where do you begin? How can you tell good design elements, good practices, from those that aren’t necessarily beneficial for you? How can you tell how to judge a professional, serious, honest developer from one who will simply take your money and split or not give you a professional-level service?
Before delving any deeper, it’s important to pre-qualify with the simple statement that web design by many is seen as a single commodity, like purchasing a cell phone or tablet.
But, just like the aforementioned tablet or cell phone, there are levels of quality, so that even with a cell phone or tablet as an analogy, some models allow for greater functionality than others. Some are higher quality and will last longer, give better quality signals, some will have better connectivity, and so on.
By the same token, there are free website template builder services and those that are as cheap as a meal out with friends.
There are also people who will offer to “give you a website” for pennies on the dollar.
In both cases attempting to cut corners simply results in having to redo the process a few months later on, or just abandon the concept of one day having a professional online presence all together. Why? Free site template builder sites seldom give Search Engine Optimization that works (because their results are generic and programmed in), there is no eCommerce (the ability to sell items or take payments online), often ads all over the site, and censorship insofar as what you can write about and what images you can use. If you went to business website that had ads for it from another company, looked like a brochure or old PowerPoint presentation from the 70s would you give them your trust? Probably not.
A template builder service provides exactly that, a basic DIY one-size-fits-all generic template over which you can type in your content. Changes in text, appearance, layout, Search Engine ranking, programming, adding eCommerce, aren’t in the equation. Free site builder services can delete your site for any reason at any time, put ads on it wherever and whenever they wish and own most if not all of whatever content you upload onto their servers.
Changes of any kind, if they can be done at all, often cost hundreds of dollars, and you’re still left with a very primitive-looking website that most people in today’s modern age of apps, smart phones, and Google devices won’t take seriously. Free template builder websites are often best for hobbyists or sites created for fun, not serious business enterprise.
Automated template builder programs and people trying to hustle a quick buck in exchange for the digital equivalent of snake oil won’t be concerned with your business structure, your profit margins, streamlining processes, or your SEO ranking.
So, once we get past the allure of free websites, how then do we judge cost?
The first thing to recognize is that investing in a professional online presence is not, as we said earlier, buying a single product.
You’re either taking part in an ongoing marketing process (that uses SEO, copywriting, social media integration and a few other avenues to reach its target audience), or you’re wasting time and money. A professional online presence should be a 24/7 online marketing division of an organized business venture bent on generating profit. A static collection of web pages that never adds anything, isn’t updated regularly, isn’t connected to social media outlets, isn’t selling services or goods, isn’t concerned with being found on search engines like Google, is ignoring what internet marketing is all about and the whole point of having a website in the first place.
Secondly, what makes a professional online presence to one person is not the same to another. One person may want custom design so that the site stands out online as unique and appealing, while someone else may not care what their site looks like or not have a clue. One person may want their Search Engine ranking on Google to be closely monitored and to rise; someone else may not care at all. You may want eCommerce to sell items or services online while someone else may not, may want to sell just a few items, may want the consumer to be able to pay for services rendered or book appointments. You may have a restaurant that you want the public to find online, make reservations for, sell your special sauce online, but you don’t care what the site looks like or whether or not it works on mobile devices (called responsive design). So no two projects are ever the same; although many people will say “I just want a website,” or “it should be simple.” When they think in this kind of way, they’re limiting the results they can get.
Another point to make is that each person’s journey is different. You may have already paid a hosting company such as GoDaddy to host a site. You may have paid for a domain name, while another person may not have done any of this yet. So just as no two projects are the same, no two journeys toward professional web design are the same, either.
Finally, when it comes to general pricing, costs in the form of rough estimates can vary wildly because the developer a) doesn’t know what the full situation is or what you’ve already done in total and the specifics of what you want done until they screen you as a potential client thoroughly (what files do you want added, how many pages, how many categories, image galleries, SEO ranking, custom design or you don’t care, how many people are involved, how easy are you to reach, how much is your budget so we can determine what’s realistic to do, what is your deadline, and so on), and b) the developer can have varying degrees of experience and capability.
Those with limited capability can offer to create something for next to nothing. They won’t have portfolios with past work, relevant experience, or references. Those with more experience will ask more questions, want to plan for long-term use, be concerned with business scale, profit, and longevity, training you to manage the site afterward or want to establish a maintenance plan, and will of course charge more than their less experienced counterparts. Their portfolios should include references/testimonials from real, verifiable sources, design samples from past clients, content writing samples, relevant education, some background in business, use contracts…
There are also many different ways to create websites. From using recycled templates and changing around a few boxes and images to creating custom design and tailoring personalized solutions for you that will guide consumers to important sections, the breadth and depth of quality varies drastically. Before calling or e-mailing a developer, research at least 2 local competitors who are doing what you want to do. Look at their design, their site content, how things are laid out, their rates, what you would do differently if you had the chance…
So the client must be discerning and take web design as a process as seriously as they do their business. One must work hand-in-hand with the other to ensure lasting success.